Redwater sets up a unexpected but intriguing premise for weeks to come.
It’s a brave thing for the BBC to commission a whole drama around two treasured EastEnders characters. Although popular belief that soap actors are sloppy and overdramatic is a misconception (excluding Hollyoaks of course), in most cases television lovers can be split into two categories – soap-lovers or soap-haters – so to develop a primetime thriller around two of EastEnders‘ most iconic characters is a big gamble.
But does that gamble pay off? Mostly, yes. Redwater sees Kat (Jessie Wallace) and Alfie (Shane Richie) journey to the eponymous town, a picturesque seaside idyll in Ireland, in search of Kat’s long-lost son. Whilst it builds on fragments of story touched on in EastEnders, Redwater is largely standalone, so you don’t need to be a ‘soap lover’ to enjoy it. Fans of EastEnders will approach the series in a completely different way; to them, Redwater is the story of Kat’s search for her son, while for newcomers, it’s about two strangers kicking up a town’s darkest secrets. All in all, it’s far more “Broadchurch meets The Wicker Man” than soapy tantrums and slaps.
There are a few nods to Kat and Alfie’s past in Albert Square, but even these feel more like ‘Easter eggs’ to please the fans. In large, reviving these characters in such a different context does feel slightly strange. Although Kat – or Kathleen as she’s known in Redwater – feels like a natural fit as protagonist, Alfie wanders around aimlessly, and his strangely prophetic dreams / brain tumour induced visions are an unnecessary side plot. The frankly bizarre scene where he and Tommy scale a high cliff for no real reason screams that the writers don’t know what to do with his character while Kat goes hunting for her son.
The new characters are all well developed, with veteran actors Ian McElhinney and Fionnula Flanagan shining in particular as the matriarch and patriarch of the sprawling Byrne/Kelly/Dolan family. Oisín Stack also makes his mark as Redwater’s troubled vicar Dermott Dolan. Redwater as a location is both beautiful and chilling in the same moment, perfectly suiting the volatile atmosphere of the show. The dark turn at the show’s close clearly shows that Redwater means business; it’s not what you were expecting, but it still leaves you desperate for the next part of the story.
Kat & Alfie: Redwater airs on BBC One, Tuesday nights at 8pm.